Gaumont Cinema, Chester. ~ History


Chester’s first super cinema, the Gaumont Palace, Brook Street opened on 2nd March 1931. The cinema, run by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, part of Gaumont British was to be called the Regent. The name was changed to Gaumont Palace, later just being called Gaumont.

The hall was designed by William T. Benslyn and had seating for 1997 people. The mayor of Chester John Morris performed the opening, and among the many in attendance were the architect and the sheriff of Chester, Robert Mathewson, who would later open the Regal. The first attraction was On Approval, a British comedy by Frederick Lonsdale.

Gaumont HMV VAN 2

The cinema was equipped with a Compton organ. This was one of only two that would be employed in Chester cinemas. The only other cinema to install the mighty Compton was the Regal, five years later. Organist in the opening week was Leslie James. He was famous having made many broadcasts and recordings. A Mr. Rowland H. Cutler went on to become the full time organist. Later, the keyboards were in the hands of Sydney Gustard. He broadcast from the theatre and his recordings on HMV can still be found.

The frontage was mock Tudor, in keeping with the city’s architecture. The entrance hall was likened to an Italian Palace – the ceiling coloured blue and gold, relieved in red. The fan shaped auditorium’s ceiling was orange, relieved by green, mauve and red.

Illumination was by a double tier lighting feature. The upper line of light was circular and the lower hexagonal. In the centre was a diamond shaped decorative grille, pierced for air extraction. Most of the auditorium lighting was in coves and ornamental vases were placed on the left and right of the proscenium. It was stated at the time of opening that the balcony, seating 800 was probably the largest in Northern England.

The ornate ceiling of the Oak restaurant of the Gaumont

The Gaumont was the only cinema in Chester to house a restaurant. The restaurant was available to all, not just patrons. The only other cinema to serve cooked food was the ABC Regal but that wasn’t until 1965 when their Gingham Kitchen opened.

Apart from films, the Gaumont staged many live shows, and in the 50s and early 60s a number of pop stars appeared. The last stage show was in November 1961. On stage Billy Fury and Eden Kane entertained their fans.

Closure came on the 9th December 1961 with the X rated film The Marriage Go-round. Work started straight away on converting the building into a bowling alley. This opened in 1962 and carried on until bingo became the name of the game in 1970. Today bingo is still played there under the Mecca name
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(from local press reports of 1961)

Gaumont Chester

The 2000 seat Gaumont Cinema is to close on December 9th, and work will start almost immediately afterwards on converting the building into a bowling alley and licensed club. It is expected that the conversion will be completed within four months and the premises reopened by next Easter.
It is the fourth Chester cinema to close in the last six years. Like the Music Hall (now being converted into a store) and the Majestic (now a ballroom) the Gaumont is owned by the Rank Organisation.
Chester will be left with only three cinemas, the Odeon (also a Rank theatre), the ABC, and the Classic. The success of the bowling alley experiment at a former cinema at Cheetham , Manchester, has made Rank Organisation officials optimistic about the Chester venture which will be run on similar lines.
Conversion of the building will cost about £100.000, and the premises will be stripped of furnishings in readiness for the extensive alterations.
Spectators will be admitted free, but the main business will be the bowling alley. Besides a licensed club, a buffet bar will be provided.
Although the cinema closes on December 9th 1961, the Gaumont restaurant is remaining open until after Christmas. The last film to be shown will be “The Marriage-Go-Round”.
Opened in March 1931 by the then Mayor of Chester, Mr John Morris, the premises were known as the Gaumont Palace, a luxury cinema. The first film was the comedy “On Approval” starring Tom Walls and Yvonne Arnaud.
As many of the staff as possible will be retained by the Rank Organisation, but the closure will be a wrench for Mr. Walter Vickers, who has worked at the cinema since it opened. The cashier, Miss. M. Baskerville, and the head usherette, Miss. E. Edge, have been on the staff only a few months less.
The present manager is Mr. A. E. Hopwood, who recently succeeded Mr. R. Jones. Mr. K. Edmondson manager of the Odeon was manager of the Gaumont until last year.
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david ellis writes main reduced ratio

The New Cinema ~License Granted.

From Chester Chronicle  6th December 1930.
This article refers to the Gaumont, which was originally going to be called The Regent.
Mr W. G. R. Saunders, London, appearing for the Provincial Theatres Corporation, applied for a music, singing and dancing license in respect of what is to be known as the Regent cinema in Brook Street.
                Mr Saunders said that the plans had been approved by the Watch Committee.
                Mr. Denson enquired whether they were to confine the dancing to the stage?
                Mr. Saunders replied that dancing would be confined entirely to the stage. They wished the music and singing license to be applicable to the theatre and café.
                Mr. Denson later observed that it was unusual to make out the license to the secretary of the company. They always granted the license to the manager.
                Mr. Saunders said that he wanted the license made out to the secretary.
                 Mr Denson: We as a Licensing Committee are responsible to the public for their safety with regard to exits and the building. We appreciate your difficulties and we are prepared to waive our objections.
                 Mr Saunders: Perhaps it will help you if I say that under the new Home Office regulations the local manager of the theatre is engaged by the licensee, if he be the secretary, to have sole charge of the theatre in the absence of the licensee.
                Mr. Denson: The licensee is responsible, and the license will be jeopardised if anything goes wrong.
                Mr. Saunders then stated that Mr. Rowley, the present manager of the Glynn cinema, was to be sent to one of the large London theatres for a short time, and when he had gained experience there he would return to take charge of the Regent Theatre.
                The Chief Constable (Mr. T.C. Griffiths) said he made certain suggestions with which the architects agreed. He was satisfied. He was pleased to know that they were considering putting Mr. Rowley in charge of the place. The police had experience of him, and he had always given satisfaction. The company would not put a man in charge of the place unless he was a man of the calibre of Mr. Rowley. He (the Chief Constable) would like the company to notify him of any change of resident manager.
                Mr. Saunders gave that assurance.
                Mr. Denson said the license would be granted conditional on everyone being satisfied.

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